By Andrew Miller
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Troy Harper made the sign of the cross and pointed to the heavens as he walked
off the court Thursday night at TD Arena. As far as Harper was concerned there was a higher power at work for the Philadelphia native and the Drexel Dragons.
Harper made three free throws with 1.1 seconds left in regulation to lift Drexel past College of Charleston, 79-78, Thursday night before a crowd of 4,116 at TD Arena. With the victory the Dragons improved to 8-10 overall and 2-3 in the CAA and snapped the Cougars’ 22-game home winning streak. Charleston, the defending CAA champions, lost for the second straight time and fell to 13-4 and 2-2.
While the Dragons’ victory Thursday night might not have been as historic as their NCAA record 34-point comeback against Delaware last season, there was still plenty of drama down the stretch. Trailing by as many as 13 points late in the game, the Dragons chipped away at the Cougars advantage. The Dragons would make two big runs at the end of the second half to close the gap. Harper, who scored 10 of his 17 points over the final three minutes, was fouled making a layup with 5.6 seconds to play that close the gap to 77-76. But Harper’s free throw attempt fell short as Charleston’s Marquise Pointer grabbed the rebound – his team-leading eighth of the night – and was immediately fouled.
“I blew it, I just left it short,” Harper said. “I was upset that I missed the free throw because I had a chance to send the game into OT. I was just glad God gave me a chance to win the game.” Pointer made the first but missed the second free throw and Harper grabbed the rebound and raced up the court for the game-tying shot.
“When they were shooting free throws, I noticed that everyone was lining up on the right side,” Harper said. “I thought if I got the rebound, I’d just turn and put my head down and go. When I got past midcourt, Pointer cut me off.” As Harper reached the top of the key, he was tripped by Charleston forward Jarrell Brantley and as he was
falling put up a desperation shot.
“As soon as I got tripped, I just threw the ball up toward the basket hoping I’d get a call,” Harper said. He did. The referees reviewed the play on video and ruled that Harper was fouled in the act of shooting and awarded the 6-1, senior guard three free throws. “I knew I was shooting, but I didn’t know where my feet were,” Harper said. “I was pretty sure it was in the act of shooting, but I didn’t know if it was a two or three. When I knew they were going to give me three free throws, I was like, ‘I can win the game right here.’”
Harper is a career 82-percent free throw shooter and had set the school mark last year making 36 straight attempts. He put the last miss out of his mind as he stepped to the free throw line and calmly made all three attempts to give the Dragons a 79-78 advantage. “Actually, I was pretty relaxed because I’d left the last one short,” Harper said. “I was like, ‘relax, calm down, you practice this every day.’ God willing, they went in.”
Drexel coach Zach Spiker had little doubt that Harper would make the free throws. “He holds the school record for most consecutive free throws, so I liked our chances,” Spiker said. “Troy’s a senior and he’s been in those pressure situations before.”
College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant felt the wrong call had been made to award Harper three free throws, but that the referee’s call did not cost the Cougars the game. “I thought the foul was on the floor, but we should have never put ourselves in that position,” Grant said. “Defense and turnovers, two things we’ve kind of built the program around were the difference down the stretch. We had some breakdowns defensively and we turned the ball over.”
The last time Charleston lost at home, Northeastern’s Bolden Brace hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer to lift the Huskies past the Cougars, 73-72, on Feb. 23, 2017. The Cougars led by as many as 13 points with eight minutes to play Thursday night, but managed to score just one point over the final 3:39 of the game. When Harper wasn’t hitting shots in the second half, it was the outside shooting of Alihan Demir and Trevor John that kept the Dragons in the game. John scored a game-high 22 points, hitting five of nine 3-point attempts, while Demir finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. It was Demir’s back-to-back 3-pointers that began the Dragons’ rally in the second half. “We talk a lot about projecting strength and tearing down whatever obstacles are in our way,” Spiker said. “We showed great resilience tonight. Trevor is a great shooter and when he gets clean looks, we feel good about them. Alihan’s shots in the second half were big, but when you win by a point, every shot is big.”
“I think Charleston is one of the better teams in the league, but I think we’re pretty good, too. Maybe we proved that tonight. Anytime you can get a win on the road against anybody it’s a big win. We were very fortunate that we did enough to win tonight.”
“Kurk Lee came off the bench and played for us for the first time all season and hit some shots. It’s huge to have him back. We know what he’s capable of doing. He contributed to a great team win tonight. Everyone had a role in this win.”
“The referee called two shots right away, so for me the question was whether he it was a two or three. For
me, that was the only question.”
“It means a lot just to get a road win in this conference because it’s so hard to get a road win in this league.”
“It’s the guys and their belief in each other. We just fight hard. We know we can come back from any deficit, especially after last year’s win against Delaware. Our guys just fight. We’re family. We fight for each other, we play for each other, we have each other’s back.”